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October 25th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Books & Writing; Canada; Sports

#FridayReads, October 25–Grant Lawrence’s “The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie”

Lonely End of the Rink#FridayReads, October 25–Grant Lawrence’s The Lonely End of the Rink: Confessions of a Reluctant Goalie. Very excited to begin reading my copy of the new book by my friend, Canadian broadcaster Grant Lawrence, which just landed in my mailbox this afternoon. The book, which chronicles his uneasy relationship with the Canadian national sport, was officially launched last night with an event in Vancouver, BC. Grant loves to meet with booksellers and readers and is one of the hardest working authors I’ve ever observed. On his website you can find details on the extensive book tour he’s taking, with stops in many Canadian cities between now and December 12.Lonely End back cover

I loved Grant’s first book Adventures in Solitude: What Not to Wear to a Nude Potluck and other Stories from Desolation Sound, a memoir of the many summers he’s spent in the wilds of coastal British Columbia, in the environs of a family cabin on the vividly named Desolation Sound. It went to #1 on the BC Bestseller List, won the BC Book Prize for the 2010 Book of the Year, an award given by booksellers, and was a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Non-Fiction. I’m hoping for similar success for his new book, which I will begin reading this weekend.Adventures in SolitudeGrant at Radio 3 picnic

[cross-posted at my other blog Honourary Canadian]

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July 22nd, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

Wintersleep Filling Up My Last Night of NXNE

View from my hotel room windowReaders of this blog may recall I was in Toronto last month for the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival. It was the third year in a row I’d attended, and the second year I’ve gone officially as press, for which I thank festival organizers who granted me accreditation so I could provide my perspective as an NYC-based blogger, reporting on an extravaganza where upwards of 1000 bands play at more than 55 different venues over 4 nights stretching all over the city. NXNE just had its fourteenth year, and they really know their game. Without a doubt, this was the most fun, productive, and musically rewarding NXNE yet for me. By my personal count I heard 35+ live acts over the four days and nights. This shows how futile it is to comprehensively cover the festival; still, thousands of music fans, musicians, and music writers have a great time trying.

I tweeted probably a hundred times and published three full posts while in Toronto from June 12-17, and have put up three more posts since returning to NYC, now including this write-up.* I’m glad to be able to continue my coverage with this report on the last day’s bunch of bands I heard and lots of pictures.

On Saturday morning I met friends Michael Martin and Margot Stokreef for breakfast at the popular Lakeside Diner, near Ossington and Dundas. Michael and Margot are longtime sales representatives for many fine independent publishers. We had a nice time catching up and then Michael offered to me drop me back near my hotel. After a quick pit stop there I headed out again to have a beverage at a cafe called the Tampered Press with Toronto friend Patti Henderson, whom I had met in 2012 at Book Camp, an ad hoc publishing conference.  Another publishing vet, Patti is also a marvelous photographer who assembles the excellent blog, Vagabond Photography. When Patti and I split up I walked over to nearby Trinity-Bellwoods Park where the unofficial CBC Radio 3 picnic hosted by Grant Lawrence was slated to begin around noon, an event I covered earlier with this post: Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic.

After enjoying all the conviviality at the picnic, where nearly 100 Canadian indie music fans met up, I headed back downtown via streetcar and on foot so I could hear Sarah Harmer play a live outdoor show at David Pecaut Square as part of the Luminato Festival, a Toronto celebration of the arts taking in music, literature, and film that overlaps with NXNE. Harmer played such familiar songs of hers as “Captive” and “One Match” and I left the outdoor performance space very happy.  Taking advantage of the Alexandra Hotel’s central location, as I had been able to do all week, I went back to my room for a cup of tea and a refreshing nap before my final night of music at NXNE (the view I had from my comfortable room, through the window that slid open, is shown at the top of this post).

The first club I visited that evening was Czehoski on Queen Street West, to hear a Chicago solo artist who plays under the provocative name of Briar Rabbit. A tall African-American singer/songwriter, he writes and plays music that examines race and historical perceptions of color. At one point, he told the audience that he’d made a study of American minstrelsy and the tradition of actors singing in black face make-up, next playing a song, “I Feel Invisible,” and then one called “Coon.” Briar Rabbit will be in NYC soon, with a show August 10 at the Living Room and August 13 at Rockwood Music Hall and I plan to hear him again at one of those venues.

My next show was quite a ways across town at Danforth Hall on the east side of Toronto, to hear Dinosaur Bones and the headliner, Wintersleep. Using streetcar and subway, I reached the converted movie theater just as Dinosaur Bones hit the stage. A 5-piece, their set built up a heavy melange of crashing guitars, keys, and drums that always stayed on the bright side of tuneful, with my fave song of theirs being a memorable one called “Ice Hotels,” which you can listen to along with other songs by them at their CBC Radio 3 artist page.  Montreal’s Hour magazine describes their music as “packed with feeling. . .whose delicate darkness almost belies its pop sensibility.”

Next up, Wintersleep, from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who played a terrific show. The sound in the hall was outstanding, full and rich, not too loud, with every instrument of their five pieces clear and distinctly audible. Lead singer Paul Murphy was in good form, as the set list ranged across their ample catalog of great songs. The band has been around ten years, releasing five albums since 2003. From the latest, “Hello Hum,” they played “In Came the Flood,” and “Resuscitate.” From earlier albums they played many of my favorites, including “Black Camera,” “New Inheritors,” “Weighty Ghost,” and “Preservation.” Their artist page at CBC Radio 3 has all these songs and more, if you want to hear them for yourself. I was standing at center front near the stage for Wintersleep, and happily hung through it with some great folks I enjoyed meeting. There was Toronto musician Courtney Lynn, who had come to this show with her brother and sister, all of them fun company. Also nearby was  Clayton Drake, keyboard player from The Almighty Rhombus, the Sudbury, Ontario, band I had enjoyed so much on Wednesday night, whose show I had written up on Thursday. In fact, on Sunday , Clayton and I exchanged a droll series of tweets that concluded with quite an amusing line from him:

In the middle of Wintersleep’s second encore, I reluctantly left the hall so I could get back to Toronto’s West Side, where the punk band Fucked Up were playing a set at the Horseshoe Tavern. True to form, they played a wild and crazy show with moshing and hijinks from lead singer Damian Abraham.  When they finished it was after 2:00 AM and I happily headed back to my room for a few hours of sleep before waking Sunday to meet Marcy and Abe Fish, cousins of mine who live in Toronto, a day I covered with this post.

For readers who’d like to know, over the next couple weeks I’ll be publishing two more posts related to my NXNE 2013: 1) A large grab bag of photos that I haven’t so far shared in any of the six previously published posts. 2) A tourist guide to Toronto, with full info on the well-situated Alexandra Hotel; ranking of the music venues; sightseeing tips, and photos of buildings and city scenes. For now, here are pictures from all the shows I attended on Saturday, June 15.


* For the record, I invite you to read the earlier posts I published from my Toronto trip. They were 1) Day I of NXNE: A Musical Banquet; 2) NXNE Day II–Another Musical Bounty; 3) Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic; 4) NXNE Day III–Six More Great Bands w/a “Best Live Show” as the Topper; and 5) Families that Make Art Together, a post not directly related to NXNE, but involving members of the Toronto chamber pop group, Ohbijou.

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June 15th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

Recorded Music I’ve Collected at NXNE + CBC Radio 3 Picnic

Almost too busy to post or write about yesterday’s NXNE. This being Saturday it’s probably the fullest day of programming all week. But I’ll share something here, pics of the CDs I’ve gotten since arriving here on Wednesday. Some have been given to me, some I was glad to pay for. It’ll be great when I get back to NYC and unpackage them. Sunday should be quieter, so probably more coverage coming here.

Below is an EP and a full album by Crissi Cochrane, a friend from the CBC Radio 3 blog community, and an emerging artist in her own right. I had never met her before today at the annual CBC Radio 3 picnic, nor heard her sing. She has a beguiling voice and presence, as shown in the pic below her recorded music.

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As noted in my Day II post below, on Thursday night I heard Toronto band Inlet Sound at The Cameron House. I really enjoyed hearing them, and was glad CBC Radio 3 host Grant Lawrence also invited them to the picnic today. Like Crissi, they are also pictured below their album “The Romantics.” Alongside it is the album I picked up by Union Duke, also on Thursday night.

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Next are Loon Choir’s two albums. They became new favorites of mine when I heard them on Thursday night. Here’s my post that includes a write-up on that show.

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Also, here’s an album by The Darcys. They were the musical guests at CBC HQs last night where Grant Lawrence ended the 7000KM cross-country CBC Beetle Road Trip. Last is The Matinee‘s “We Swore We’d See the Sunrise.” They played last night at the Supermarket, after which I tweeted:

@philipsturner: The Matinee just played one of the best live sets ever. They owned the crowd&the stage. @NXNE @thematineemusic http://t.co/u2LJxEYREX

 

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June 11th, 2013

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Media, Blogging, Internet; Music, Bands & Radio

To Toronto for North by Northeast (NXNE), June 12-17 + Exploring New Media Connections

For the third consecutive year I’ll be attending Toronto’s North by Northeast festival (NXNE), which I’ll be covering as accredited press for this blog The Great Gray Bridge, which I began the day after Halloween in 2011. The festival, which stretches across the big city on the northern shore of Lake Ontario, takes place at 100s of venues, combining live music shows with artists from Canada and other countries; comedy shows; films; and panels and presentations on interactive and digital topics. I arrive tomorrow, June 12, and will be in town until next Monday night, June 17. I look forward to making new friends and meeting up with many of my old pals from the CBC Radio 3 blog and fan community, coordinated by the inspired work of our ringmaster, Grant Lawrence, radio host, author, and catalytic ambassador for Canadian indie rock n’ roll. Grant is also expected to arrive in Toronto tomorrow, as he completes the CBC Beetle Road Trip, a 5000KM music discovery journey that he began in Vancouver almost three weeks ago.

In addition to covering NXNE, I’ll be working in the area of my publishing consultancy. I’ll be seeing people at Speakerfile.com–a Toronto company whose brand is visible at the upper right corner of this website–one of my chief consulting clients. I also have meetings and meals set up with Canadian publishing, book industry, and media friends and am still seeking out confabs with new contacts. Because Canadian politics is being keenly followed by readers in the States these days–over issues that really matter to my avid audience, such as transnational oil politics and trade issues; the hard sell by the Harper gov’t of the Keystone pipeline and PBO’s looming decision on what to do about Alberta’s tar sands; the always eventful mayoralty of Toronto’s Rob Ford; and many, many US and Canadian shared musical and literary touchpoints.  My goal in Toronto will be to explore with media contacts how the coverage I do here of Canadian culture, books, publishing, and politics–all composed from the personal viewpoint of a longtime bookseller of Canadian titles, publisher of Canadian authors, visitor to Canada, and observer of its ways.  Stephen Harper’s inevitable electoral bid for another majority will come no later than 2015, a time that I believe I will find more outlets for my writing.

If any Canadian friends, old or new, read this post, and want to get together or talk while I’m in town, please be in touch. You may use this link at my contact page, or find me at Twitter, @philipsturner

Finally, if you’re curious what the home page of the NXNE website looks like, here it is. My favorite bit is in the upper right corner: 1000 Bands * 30 Films  * 150 Comedians  * 65 NXNEi Sessions *  60 Artists


 

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September 1st, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio

A Great Music Video–Library Voices, Unplugged

Library Voices is an absolutely great band from Regina, Saskatchewan. They’ve been through New York City twice on tour since I discovered them a bit more than a year ago. The video below is an acoustic version of their song “Traveler’s Digest,” from the website of Green Couch Sessions. Library Voices plays with a boisterous enthusiasm, whether unplugged as here, or with full compliment of amps and synths in tow. I hope you enjoy the video. Their albums are great, including the most recent, “Summer of Lust.”

Green Couch Sessions says  it’s “a place where music lovers come to listen. Found abandoned in an alley it has transformed into a hub of local and awesome music. Reviews, Interviews and anything else we want to talk about!”

Green Couch was also responsible for the Tracks on Track musical extravaganza this past June, when 10 bands including The Matinee and Shred Kelly, CBC Radio 3 host and author Grant Lawrence, plus a couple dozen fans of Canadian indie music traveled by rail from Vancouver to Toronto. I was unable to join that journey from west to east, but I met many friends from the trip in Toronto for the annual North by Northeast festival (NXNE). There’s lots of cool video from Tracks on Tracks online.

The Matinee, playing on June 10, 2012, Day II of Tracks on Tracks

Shred Kelly, Day II of Tracks on Tracks

Special thanks to CBC Radio 3 pal Rebecca Gladney for posting “Traveler’s Digest” on Facebook tonight.

 

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August 14th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Music, Bands & Radio; Personal History, Family, Friends, Education, Travels

Jeremy Fisher, True Troubador

Jeremy Fisher isn’t a big person, but the singer-songwriter sure makes a big sound. It’d be hard to imagine more music coming from any other solo player. Along with his voice, his primary instrument is a weathered Gibson LG-2 guitar from which he punches out a great, full sound. His bright singing voice offers a lot of welcome contrast with that percussive Gibson, since I suspect it falls somewhere between the tenor and alto range. The lyrics he sings are deeply felt declarations that carry a personal, even existential quality.

I highly recommend all of Jeremy’s music, and particularly, his latest album, “Mint Juleps,”  a recording with five originals written by Jeremy and  covers of seven songs by such artists as Gordon Lightfoot, John Hiatt, and Greg Brown. Fisher makes each song his own in such a way that until I studied the album sleeve, I wasn’t sure which songs were his and which were the covers. “Spin, Spin, Spin” is a rare Gordon Lightfoot song, in that it hasn’t been sung by lots of other artists already. In a recent phone interview, Jeremy told me that was one of the reasons he chose it for the record. He said he wanted songs to which he knew he could add something new. That is certainly the case with Greg Brown’s ode to the bounty of summer, “Canned Goods,” about the pickles, tomatoes, and fruits his dear grandma put up for canning when he was a boy.

One of the highlights of attending the North by Northeast (NXNE) festival in Toronto in June was finally hearing Jeremy perform live. I had heard him on CBC Radio 3 many times, enjoying such songs as “Shine a Little Light” and “Jolene” (not Dolly Parton’s song of the same name) but I was unprepared for how bright, funny, and charismatic he is as a live performer. That week I heard him play at the Dakota Tavern showcase** hosted by his label Hidden Pony, and at the picnic hosted by CBC Radio 3 host and author Grant Lawrence, where I took this outdoor photo.

The title of the new album is not meant to remind listeners of the Kentucky Derby, or anything about America’s Old South. This Canadian composer wanted to evoke lazy summer days, or as he told me, “the kind of record I’d like to listen to while making brunch on a Sunday morning, or having a drink on a Friday afternoon.” He said he’s been playing other people’s songs ever since he started joining bands as a kid, playing songs by Canadian super-groups Blue Rodeo and the Tragically Hip. and later Beatles and Motown covers. They were the “starting point” for him as a songwriter. For the new album he played solo versions of the songs he’d decided to record and emailed the sound files to the musicians he’d asked to accompany him. This group included such standout Canadian musicians as Joey Wright, whose 2011 album “Hatch” I enjoy a lot. Adding a nice tough here, Wright plays guitar, mandolin, and tenor guitar. Based on his rough work-up, Jeremy told his musical recruits, “this is the feel I want, but I want fresh ideas every take. . . . I wanted the personalities of the players to shine through.”

The new album was engineered my Mark Ouimet, who also plays percussion and sings on several numbers. Among many favorite songs on the album, I’m especially enjoying “If It’s Alright With You,’ written by Gene MacClellan, which sports a great harmonica riff played by Jeremy himself. Listening to Jeremy Fisher’s latest recording of his favorite songs during this sweltering summer of 2012 one is left with an unmistakable impression of hearing a latter day Buddy Holly, a forgotten sibling to the Everly Brothers, or maybe Paul Simon. Even with all those classic rock and pop associations, which are not a stretch, Jeremy’s an original talent with a great feel for song–I recommend you listen to him for yourself.

**That Dakota showcase where I heard Jeremy Fisher also featured Erin Passmore, the Danks, Elephant Stone, and Rah Rah, each also clients of Hidden Pony. All five acts–including Jeremy who followed Erin–played great that night. Click here to view 15 of the photos I took during the showcase.

 

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July 26th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Canada; Media, Blogging, Internet; Music, Bands & Radio

NY Times Profiles CBC host Jian Ghomeshi


Jian Ghomeshi of CBC Radio’s ‘Q,’ one of my favorite talk shows on radio, has been profiled by the NY Times John Schwartz in an article headlined “A Wild Mix of Culture by Way of Canada.” I had recently written about Jian and ‘Q’ in this post, after he won the Gold Award for best talk-show host at the New York Festivals International Radio Awards. I am pleased to see him making so much headway in New York City, and throughout the States, where the program is now carried on 120 public radio stations, including WNYC 93.9 FM at 10 PM on weeknights. I took the photo below of Jian (l.) and CBC host Grant Lawrence when I was recently in Toronto for NXNE, and along with a group of CBC Radio 3 fans was given a tour of the broadcast facility.

 

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July 7th, 2012

By Philip Turner in: Urban Life & New York City

Annals of Urban Wildlife–Meeting a Skunk in the City (or a Sturgeon)

Update: A day or two after my encounter with the skunk chronicled below, I read of a wild urban encounter involving my friend, CBC Radio host and author Grant Lawrence. In the coastal waters washing around Vancouver, B.C., where he lives, he saw a huge, prehistoric-looking fish whose presence in water he had been about to swim in alarmed him and a young nephew until they determined that the marine creature was actually dead. He took the photo shown here and sent it out on Twitter, crowd-sourcing identification of it. Grant’s discovery turns out to have been a sturgeon, the world’s largest freshwater fish. This one was seven or eight feet long, as shown in Grant’s amazing picture. Now, a local paper has written up the account in full, which I invite you to read at this link. Not so coincidentally, this summer Grant is hosting CBC Radio’s The Wild Side, all about encounters with creatures and the wilderness. As Grant’s discovery shows, and even mine with the little skunk, our cities are also the scene for brushes with the wild side.

I ride my bicycle nearly every day in New York City, even during this current heat wave. Biking is my preferred form of exercise, and has been for years, going back to my days at Franconia College, near Franconia Notch, New Hampshire, when I rode all over the White Mountains. I was never in better shape than in those years.

New York City doesn’t offer quite as many topographical challenges as the North Country but I get my miles in every week, and there are some lovely spots to ride in the city. Some days I ride on the Central Park loop that goes around the perimeter of the big park; other days I pedal along the Hudson River on Manhattan’s west side, all the way up to the George Washington Bridge, where readers of this blog may recall the Little Red Lighthouse resides under the Great Gray Bridge, which I wrote about in a foundational post, How This Blog Got its Name.

Today I was on the west side but in the 95 degree heat, I took a reading break at what are called the Harlem West Piers, about even with 125th Street, near the uptown branch of the Fairway market. Sitting on a bench, I read three engrossing chapters in the spy novel I’m currently enjoying, The Double Game by Dan Fesperman, which I’d made my #FridayReads yesterday. Looking at my watch I finally decided it was time to head home, so picked up my cell to let my wife know. As our phone at home began to ring, I was startled to see a creature stirring in the shrubbery and bushes just near my bench. I thought at first, ‘a rat,’ since they are common sights in New York these days. But, no, the coloring was wrong. When it emerged from the bushes, I could see it was black & white, and I said to Kyle just as she answered the phone, “Holy shit, I see a skunk!” She was taken aback, and I quietly explained what was in front of me. Neither of was completely shocked, as we have occasionally detected a skunk-like odor that wafts up from Riverside Park at night, though we were never certain that’s what we were smelling. I quickly added that I’d soon be heading home and ended the call so I could pull out my IPod-Touch and take some pictures of the sleek little creature.

I observed that it was almost certainly immature in growth, though not a pup, or whatever baby skunks are called. It seemed unafraid of me and there was not a moment where I thought it was riled up or likely to spray or, even run away from my observance of it. I took quite a few pictures and followed it as it crept along the path in front of the fence. Once it disappeared into the shrubs, I prepared to strap on my helmet and ride away, but saw a Parks Dept. worker nearby. This is a very well-maintained park so I walked over and asked her if it was known to her and her colleagues that skunks are living right here in front of the river.  She blanched a bit and said, “You saw what? Oh, no the landscaper is going to be here tomorrow and we’re supposed to work in those beds. I’m so glad you told me, I don’t want to be stirring up any angry skunks!” I explained to her that it had been a young one I’d seen, and that it didn’t appear to have been made at all nervous by being near me. She was glad of that, but mentioned there must be more than just the one. Her name was Penny Hyman and I gave her my card which I’d been using a bookmark in my novel, as she said her supervisor might want to see my photos of the little creature. For you, my dear readers, here are several of those pictures, proof that I had a close encounter with a surprising example of Manhattan wildlife. All this goes to show, you never know what may happen when you leave your house for some exercise and quiet reading time.